Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hearts & Crosses, The Final Installment

If you missed any of Hearts & Crosses, Parts I-III, here's a quick refresher.  Please feel free to click on the highlighted text to read the full story:

Part I - I threw out a theory about the three types of people there are when it comes to belief in signs:  The Omen Enthusiast, The Naysayer, The Spirit Seer. The end of this post found my sister, Christine, Spirit Seer extraordinaire, sighting the first of many signs proving that our dad was with us even after his passing.

Part II - Here began the sequence of events in a series of signs that my sisters and I would happen upon, a pictorial story of Hearts & Crosses that still overwhelms me each time I see it.

Part III - Part III opens with our feelings on the day of my dad's funeral. How, in his infinite care for our family, Daddy made sure to send us the sign of all signs, spreading a salve on our wounded hearts.  The words, "Oh Father of the broken-hearted daughter, pray for us," will soothe me until I join my dad beyond the veil.

Now that we're caught up...

I returned home to California almost two weeks after I had travelled to say goodbye to my dad.  It's distressing how normal life seems not so normal anymore after such a loss, yet we go through the motions because the Earth keeps spinning and our schedules need tending. 

I got out of bed one morning almost two weeks after returning from Alabama and found myself in one of those dreamy hazes where you look back on recent events and can hardly believe they happened.  I began to doubt my sanity a bit.  Uncertainty chilled me for a moment.  (That blasted devil!)  I was reviewing, slowly, each divine encounter and was coming to the conclusion that our heart signs were the true signs, though the crosses would play a minor part.  After all, Christine was the only person who clearly found a cross on its own.  I didn't know at the time why this bothered me so much...the elimination of the cross as an integral part of the equation. I was so saddened to think that my imagination may have gotten the best of me.  I prayed for confirmation of all we had seen and heard over the past few weeks. 

"What about the cross, God?  Daddy?  Was the cross part of it?  Please show me the way."

I read my morning devotionals, then got down to business making breakfast for my boy and cleaning up the house.  Laundry, dishes, trash, recyclables, making beds - you know the drill.  But even in trying to distract myself, I couldn't shake the sadness.  Finally I had a moment to sit at the computer, and I pulled up my online post for the day from Girlfriends in God .  Author Sharon Jaynes had written a story about a recent trip to the beach.  It was here that God remedied my doubt, filling me with great joy:

"Perhaps my favorite place in all the world is the beach. God seems to speak to me through each intricately carved sea shell, soaring gull, and majestic wave. On this particular spring morning, I had gotten up before the others stirred from their slumber to have a cup of coffee with the Lord. I sat rocking on the cottage porch surrounded by coastal beauty and watching the water of the lazy canal meander by. As I was talking to God and thanking Him for all the splendor of His creation, He urged me to look closely at a reflection in the water. There it was…a cross. Reflected in the water was a simple cross."

I began to rejoice, ashamed of my temporary lapse in faith.  Here I found myself, day after day since my dad's passing, being delivered of signs served up on a silver platter, yet I settled back into old ways, succumbing to my doubts.  What more could I possibly have asked?  The message was clear.  "Believe, Cynthia.  This is your moment of grace."

I realized unexpectedly why the removal of the cross had been bothering me so much.  We cradle Catholics learn the "sign of the cross" often times before we even learn our abc's.   Its a beautiful symbol of our faith.  But as I reflected on that term for a moment...the sign of the cross...that which I've said my whole life...truly, for the first time, did I appreciate the importance of that phrase and what it represented.

The sign of the cross...
A sign of Jesus' sacrifice for our sins.
Proof of God's tender love for us in the face of losing His son.
A sign of surrender

A sign that, despite our smallness, our selfishness, our very humanity,
protects our souls by the love of God.
Love shown by His Son on a cross.
A cross that encompasses
Protects our hearts.

Hearts & Crosses...
a perfect symbol to show us the way...
...the way to His grace.

{Thank you, Daddy, for these gorgeous gifts. 
And thanks to you readers, for sharing this journey with me.}

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hearts & Crosses, Part III

When last I left you, my family here on Earth was deeply ensconced  in receiving evidence of my dad's watching over us after he passed.  Hearts & Crosses were the messages received and it was with great joy that we discovered each item, each sign.  Still, there was no getting around the true heartbreak we were beginning to endure.  As happy as we were that we continued to have glimpses of Daddy's presence with us, it simply couldn't replace his humanity...his warmth and love, his smell and touch, his laughter and twinkling eyes. 

Daddy passed on a Sunday, and we worked very hard over the next three days to ready ourselves for his viewing on Wednesday and funeral on Thursday.  Each morning after awakening, I diligently read each of my devotionals...two books with accompanying Scripture passages and three faith-based blogs.  Distraught, I sought comfort.  I searched and searched for something relevant, something which would spread a much needed balm on the wounds of my soul, easing my pain. 


I prayed in the morning when I arose, "Lord, thank you for sending me a message that will comfort me."

Nothing written...

Thursday morning dawned and with it a new level of sorrow.  I sat down to breakfast with Christine and said, "I just feel nauseous."  She said, "Me too."  We agreed we needed to eat a little something simply so we could get through the day.  We had our coffee and just kept looking at each other, "I can't believe this is happening.  I can't believe this is really happening.  I don't want to go."

I could feel the tide welling within me, ready to burst.  I left the room and started a low level wail before remembering I had not read my online devotionals.  "Please Lord, please.  Please Daddy.  Please make it something meaningful."  I prayed these words while remembering back to the previous days' offerings:  how to make your garden more beautiful, fostering friendships, the importance of forgiveness, memorial day stories and remembrances...all lovely submissions just none significant to my need.

I read the first.  The subject?  How everything we do matters because everyone is watching.  True, but not helpful. 

I read the second:  Learning to find peace in the stillness, in the absence of movement.  Yessss, but I can't absorb that lesson right now.  That's for next month.

Finally, with a sigh, I opened the final submission found on (in)courage, written by Ann Voskamp.  My throat caught, tightening as the tears began.  The title read:

"A Prayer for the Brokenhearted"

I silently began crying and praying prayers of thanksgiving.  It took a moment before I could continue...

"Father of the broken-hearted daughter...
oh, hear our prayer."

The tears were flowing freely now but more from joy than sorrow.  My prayer was answered.  I ran to my brother-in-law's office and pulled the piece up on my computer, printing up copies for my sisters to give them before the funeral.  I then ran to the kitchen and said to Christine, "You're never going to believe the title and opening lines to my devotional today!"  As I read them to her, we just kept saying, "No, no, no, no!!  Uh-uh, uh-uh...oh my gosh!"   And we were grinning and thanking God and Daddy when my brother-in-law, Jeff, piped in, "But did you show her the picture?"

I hadn't noticed the picture, I'm embarrassed to say.  He was just grinning from ear to ear.  I turned it over and Christine and I saw...


Our hearts spread all over the table, exposed in their vulnerability, whole, in pieces, unformed, some literally broken.  But the heart in focus, of course, held gently, tenderly, cradled in the love of both Fathers.  Thank you, thank you, for these precious signs of Your grace.  Thank you, thank you for holding our hearts in the palm of Your hands.

{One more installment of this poignant story before I'm through. 
So grateful you stopped by to share it with me.}

Photo credit:  Ann Voskamp on Flicker

Friday, June 22, 2012

We Interrupt These Hearts & Cross Messages...

Dear Readers,
Thanks for checking back in for the next installment of Hearts and Crosses...I wanted the story to be full and complete, so because I was working on a gift of flower arrangements for my niece's high school graduation party, I found myself out of time.  I want the post to be worthy of YOUR time.  Please check back in over the next few days to read the rest of my father's story.

Until then, please enjoy the fruits of my labor today...nothing like summer blooms...
Love & blessings,

Congratulations, Maddie!  We're so very proud of you!!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hearts & Crosses, Part II

My father journeyed from death to new life on Pentecost Sunday.  In the days preceding his passing, he was seeing and speaking to angels all around him.  A couple of times in the hospital, he was speaking aloud and when a family member answered him, he said, "I'm not talking to you."  No one else on Earth was in the room.

So to say that we as a family got a little glimpse of Heaven in the days before my father moved beyond the veil is an understatement.  Thus the "Spirit Seers" in us were fully alive, watching and waiting for my dad to speak from his new Heavenly digs.  We didn't have to wait long.

Now to mention that all of us got some weird quirks from our dad is just to state a fact. There was a specific fork that Daddy always liked eating with when we were growing up. If he didn't get that fork, he would send the wrong one back to replace with his favorite, like sending undercooked fish back at a restaurant.  There was something about the weight and feel of that fork, I think, that was comforting and familiar to him. 

The Monday morning after Pentecost Sunday, my sister Christine (of the red heart leaf...Part I of this story) awoke and, before heading over to Mama's, made herself a cup of coffee.  Now Christine has inherited this little cutlery idiosyncrasy from my dad but in the form of coffee cups and coffee spoons.  She made herself a cup of coffee and pulled a spoon out of the dishwasher with which to stir her cream.  Alas, it was a spoon from her outdoor kitchen....the kind she hates.  Well, that wasn't going to do, so she replaced it and fetched her favorite.  For some reason (okay, we all know the reason), she turned it over, and this is what she saw...

Dumbfounded, Christine stared for a minute but then felt Daddy with her most poignantly.  So she said, "Good morning, Daddy."  She immediately knew that a cross would be one sign we would be getting from my dad.  (You can't see it, by the way, unless you're holding the spoon, but on the right side of the cross, there is a "J" clearly inscribed.  My dad's name is Joseph.) 

Shortly after that picture had made the texting rounds, we all met to drive to the funeral home and begin arrangements for Daddy's service.  I opened the car door to my sister, Theresa's, car to get in and this was waiting for me...

Of course, we all had to run around to that side of the car to see it....and my sister, Margaret, snapped a picture. 

A heart-shaped leaf
a cross engraved in Cascade on a spoon
a red heart band...
My husband and children flew in that day and my sisters and I began sharing all of the stories with them.  They listened incredulously (my daughter and son), perhaps a bit skeptically (my husband), and then left us at my mom's so we could continue our funeral work.  About 10 minutes later, I got a text from my 15 year old daughter...

"I can't believe I forgot to tell you this while you were sharing your stories.  I have been looking for this necklace for over a year, and I found it last night right before I went to bed."

This was getting just plain weird.

Our Aunt Peggy, Daddy's sister, who stayed with us throughout his hospice care, and who is of one mind with our family, listened and gasped and was just generally in awe with us regarding the signs.  Amidst the chatter, she got up and left the room.  When she came back, she was holding a framed picture and told us a story, only the beginning of which we knew.  

Daddy had received an answered prayer from God years ago for help with a sermon that he was supposed to preach that very night, the beginning homily of an octave of prayer.  (Daddy always did like to make things exciting by waiting 'til the last minute to prepare.  Sadly, this is another character trait some of us girls have inherited.) The message sent to him became the message he preached all over the country.  He told it everywhere he went.  Aunt Peggy's son-in-law, David, a graphic designer, was given the words Daddy wanted captured and made a beautiful print to match the message.  Daddy had it converted to cards and used them as his signature piece.  It was the original framed artwork she brought out of his room. Turning the picture around...

...all of us just stood there with our mouths agape.  Of course, hearts & crosses would be his insignia.  It was what he daily preached.  His beautiful words echoed in our memories:

"I call these Universal Life Principles. I hear them in my heart every day; I try to live them. Each day repeat them as your own.

God said:

1. "Tell them I love them!"
2."Tell them to love themselves!"
3."Tell them to love each other!"
4."Tell them to love Me!"
~ Joseph

We were astounded.  How could we have been so blind as to not understand his message to us so clearly?  I felt awash with relief that I would have my father's touch in my life still.  It was not the same as hearing his voice, speaking to him, but somehow these tangible signs were a lifeline in my grief.  My dad was watching over us, making sure we knew he was still with us, whole and healed from Heaven.

Still the greatest sign was forthcoming.  And what a message it was.

{Tomorrow, Part III...thanks for coming back.}

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hearts & Crosses, Part I

Are you a believer in signs?

In my estimation, there are three types of people when it comes to this topic:

1.  The Omen Enthusiast - This person wants to confirm that every single material thing they desire and every path they want to follow is sanctioned.  Consequently, their dog could poop in the shape of a microphone, and they'll take it as a sign that they are meant to be a famous singer (even though they can't carry a tune and have never had a voice lesson).  They immediately audition for The Voice.  A conversation with The Omen Enthusiast might go something like this, "Yesterday, my half eaten hamburger and bun fell on the floor making a distinctive pattern of ocean waves.  So I knew immediately that I should go purchase the pair of jet skis I've been wanting."

2.  The Symbol Naysayer - Quite the opposite, this person refuses to believe that they are ever delivered of a sign.  They believe that all acts in the universe are random (and generally opine that those who think differently are nuts...).  The Symbol Naysayer could wake up one morning with The Shroud of Turin literally emblazoned on their bed linens, hold up the pillowcase and, while looking at the face of Christ, say, "Look at this disgusting, haphazard dirt pattern on my pillow.  I better add Tide with bleach to my grocery list...and invest in a better loofah."

3.  The Spirit Seer -  This last type is a combination of the two mentioned above but the motivation is a bit different.  Because The Spirit Seer wants to know the path they are following is pure and not motivated by self-interest when happening upon a sign, doubt may enter the picture only in order to keep them on track.  Generally, though, this person prays, asks for guidance then steps out the door every morning in faith, confident of finding an answer.  They may say, "I read a phrase in a book yesterday that confirmed my question on a new job offer I've prayed about taking.  I'm so comforted to find confirmation for my question."  The more they pray, and the more they are accepting of the answer and path set before them, even if it is contrary to their heart's desire, the more they become aware of the signs all around.  Soon everywhere they look, there is meaningful evidence of the Holy Spirit.  Signs abound which glow with the light of Heaven.

A few weeks ago, while my dad was in hospice care, barely having been conscious for days, my sister drove over to my mom's to continue all of her help with Daddy's care.  She entered the house and said, "I just got out of my car and something told me to look down. Here's what I found at my feet," and held up a red leaf in the perfect shape of a heart.  We all cried.

Little did we know that this was only the first of many signs from our father (and Father) in the weeks to come.  My continued prayer, "Lord, please keep me open to following Your path while recognizing Your love and peace all around me.  Thank you for the tangible signs You send, showing us our father is whole and happy, in this time of earthly grief."

Please come back tomorrow for the next installment of "Hearts & Crosses" and the amazing sign-filled journey my family has been taking.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Who Says, "Things Happen for a Reason"?

In order to fully appreciate the lessons of the past few weeks, I have to back up to a seemingly unrelated time, and relay seemingly unrelated events.  A series of images come to mind...

Staring blankly ahead at the wall, for hours, unseeing, empty
Lying frozen in bed, unable to get out, get showered, get dressed
Endlessly crying - through work, through speech therapy, through home life
Crawling down the hallway, so beaten by life that I could not walk
Daily doctor and therapist appointments ...specialists who tried to discover and remedy the reason I could not sing, the reason I could not lift my arm
Voices raised with my husband, in anger and contempt, in desperation and fear
Months of constant anxiety attacks, unable to leave the house, unable to listen to music, unable to watch a movie or TV
Not wanting life, as it was, to continue

A year ago, I would have been mortified to share any of this.  Today I stand strong in the knowledge that, with the Lord's help and His arms wrapped around me, I chose a different path and one I was meant to share.  A path of healing, acceptance, obedience (er, most of the time :), and faith.  A path without pride.  A path without control.  A path seeking peace.

My therapist, amidst the darkness, told me to find a few things daily that made me feel good, lifted in spirit, then actively seek them throughout each day.  They were simple.

Sitting outside in the sunshine
Texting my girlfriends (no phone calls, wasn't ready for that yet)
Sitting in my living room in front of the window, watching the birds flit
and the leaves on my magnolia tree blowing in the wind
Playing brickbreaker on my Blackberry (hypnosis at its finest)
Watching Modern Family DVDs

This was what you did all day, you ask?  And to that I answer a resounding "yes" that's all I could do at the time.  I was happy I was getting out of bed!  Recovery began with these simple steps. 

I told Dr. Gray, however, that I wished I could add "reading" to my recovery list but was finding I could not sit down with just any book.  If there was even a hint of hurt or illness or family strife in the plot line, I would start having an anxiety attack.  She suggested that I start small and read something comprised of short, inspirational quotes or stories...something without a plot that I could easily pick up and read but just as easily put down. 

I went home and perused our bookshelves (you must remember, I was hardly leaving the house so going to the library or Barnes & Noble wasn't an option) and found "Your Best Life Begins Each Morning" by Joel Osteen.  This copy had been given by my friend, Annie, to my family years earlier and truthfully, I had never picked it up.  I think I wasn't meant to.  I think God was saving it for this very time in my life.

Rather than reading the entry from that day's date, I just started from the beginning.  I was struck.

"...Is your first reaction to...describe yourself in terms of past terms of losing or just surviving than fulfilling your dreams?...It's time to enlarge your vision.  He wants to pour His far and beyond favor on you.  He wants to do big things and new things in your life."

From that moment everything changed.  I read that book, carried it with me everywhere.  When I started getting anxious, I pulled it out and read from the beginning again.  Then I read "The Prayer of Jabez" (another book that had sat on my shelf for years untouched).  Next I went to the Women of Faith conference at the Honda Center, an annual commitment I have with dear friends, and at the break, I bought Jesus Calling by Sarah Young and all three of Andy Andrews books for sale:  The Noticer,  The Traveller's Gift and The Final Summit.   I found that what I had always heard was actually true...if you put garbage into your body, you'll reap garbage.  If you put in things of worth, you'll reap things of worth.

Later, I started writing this blog just as a way to make myself write each day.  But I discovered that the more I wrote, the more I looked for ways that God was working in my life, the more things changed.  My perspective changed.  My marriage changed.  My family changed.  God was changing us all.  I tried transparency rather than control.  I began to pray in earnest thanksgiving rather than "qualification" or "need."  I even said prayers of gratitude for the hurt, the pain, the scary, the dreaded.  This was extremely foreign at first (and I admit, I thought it was a ridiculous thing to do!) but over time I truly recognized that the more I needed God, the bigger was my opportunity to lean on Him in His grace and goodness.  What a gift.

Fast forward to three weeks ago and the call that changed my family's father was being moved home into hospice.  He was preparing for death to new life.  We were all going to gather around him to await his Heavenly homecoming.

The night before I was to leave, my husband said to me, "You know, I've been thinking about all of your pain and hurt and anxiety from last year.  How we didn't understand at the time why it was happening or what the purpose was.  I think this was the purpose.  Because if you had not had those terrible months, you would have never gotten closer to God.  You wouldn't be leaning on Him as you are now.  And you would never be able to handle your dad passing if you didn't have Him to lean on."  My eyes filled with tears at my husband's profound perspective and I said, "I was just thinking the same thing today."  Then I cried and cried, saying silent prayers of gratitude for my husband as he held me close.

I will leave you with one thought. 
I try not to make this blog a preaching forum
or a cautionary tale for what may happen if the reader doesn't have a
great relationship with our Father. 
We all hear Him in different ways and in different moments. 
I do not claim to be any type of authority.  
After all, I am simply
an ordinary woman listening to our extraordinary God.   

But I will claim authority once. 
I know,
with no doubt,
that each of our stories is written in advance with God's touch on everything.
There is a reason for all of the pain we experience.
We may not know it at the time we're going through it.
We may not understand it.
We may question it.
We may feel
These are human emotions that we experience as we process pain.
But if we hang on
have faith
pray with gratitude
(yes, even for the hurts)
the reason will eventually be revealed to us.
Maybe not in our timeline.
Always in His.
Always for us.

If you are struggling today, I encourage you to look ahead in faith for what
beautiful things are in store for you...
lessons you can learn from your struggles...
grace you can share with others. 
There is a reason for your story
I pray in gratitude that He will show you that reason.

...Giving thanks for you, your stories, and your ability to honor Him through sharing them.

Photo credit:  jade95_2010

Sunday, June 10, 2012

1000 Gifts Sunday

A continuation of the One Thousand Gifts challenge by A Holy Experience blogger, Ann Voskamp. A reminder of God's love and all the things for which I have found thanks throughout the week. I hope you find it meaningful and that you are encouraged to take pause to reflect upon all of the things in your life for which you are grateful.

Gratitudes #39-84

#39  A gazebo to sit in, a place for reflection, a connection to Daddy
#40 the ability to cry and not hold back
#41  my husband, my rock
#42  the incredible, sweet voices of my children raised in song
#43  Theresa
#44  Margaret
#45  Christine
#46  Elizabeth
#47  Curt
#48  Jeff
#49  Andrew, Amanda and Carlye
#50  Carolyne
#51  Sarah, Audrey, Christopher, Stephen, Thomas, Maggie
#52  Jack, Sam, Katie, Patrick
#53  Praying with Carolyne, bowing heads, holding hands
#54  Reading from Daddy's Office of the Hours to him
#55  Mama - her strength, softness, leaning in and on
#56  Aunt Peggy and her quiet, wonderful ways
#57  Two incredible, different, heartfelt, honoring eulogies
#58  Guy Goode and memories and faith
#59  Southern cooks with big hearts and making the time
#60  Military guards and honors and a solitary sweet, pure, haunting bugle call
#61  Mama understanding our desire to replace "the sewing basket"
#62  Holding hands and arms and hearts
#63  Bedside concerts
#64  Hospice and the comfort it brings
#65  Regular, quiet breaths we breathe
#66  Angels watching
#67  A final round of applause for Willie
#68  Escaping to the bathroom
#69  Escaping to the cave
#70  Daddy's written words found in 20 old notepads
#71  Hearts and crosses
#72  Aunt Grace, Aunt Mary, Aunt Hazel, Aunt Shirley
#73  Rosie and roses
#74  Gorgeous flowers, gifts in honor of my dad
#75  Old friends and old stories
#76  Gretchen Keene Wenzel and a renewed connection
#77  Paintings by Daddy
#78  Relatives and friends greeting Daddy at the gates
#79  Children with their rosaries, asking for help, learning with wide eyes
#80  White House, Black Market appropriate clothing
#81   Needed shoes found, $14
#82  Magnolias blooming, reachable, fragrant
#83  "A Prayer for the Brokenhearted" daughter
#84  For pain and heartbreak as an opportunity to lean on my Heavenly Father

I thought I might have trouble making it to 1000 by the end of the year.  But if I keep this up, it will be no problem.  Thank you, God, for grace.  Thank you for your lessons.  Thank you for infinite arms that hold me close.

And thanks to all of you for reading.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Covert Prayer...Answered

Dear family, friends, readers who are my brothers and sisters in Christ...

Thank you for continuing to check in on my humble words here over the two weeks I've been away.  I hope you have found a backlog of blog posts that have comforted you, made you laugh or helped answer a prayerful question you've been asking.

For me, just over a week ago, I was granted an answer to my own desperate plea...
you may find the request at A Covert Prayer.

So it is with a heavy heart for me but a joyful heart for my father that I share with you the news of Daddy's passing on Pentecost Sunday. 
As in life, my father's death was an affair of
and love
with his hands holding that of our Lord's
while slowly unwinding his fingers from ours...
but not before he was sure we were ready. 
His sacrifices, even at the end, are astounding.
I can never express how deep my love for this man runs. 
There are no words adequate. 
I will say that forever I will hold his lessons, laughter, joy and love
close to my (hurting) heart.

I am jumping back into normal life today (amazing how it continues despite such loss, isn't it?), but when I catch up a bit for my family and take some time to work through my grief, I look forward to continuing to share God's not-so-subtle messages to me with all of you. 

Until then, I encourage you to visit when you can and search previous month's posts for those you've missed.  I will pray that you find an answer you've been seeking.

To read more about my father and his great influence on my life, please click below:

The Master Planter
Don't Talk to Her
Each Day is Valentine's Day
Child of the Light
Called to Follow
Pray? Or Ice Cream?
Approval from Across the Years

{Greatest prayers of thanksgiving for you and yours...}